José Oliva sends firm reminder to cities to back off tree ordinances

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By Janelle Irwin Taylor
January 16, 2020

House Speaker José Oliva is sending a not-so-subtle message to local governments not to over-step their authority.

Oliva sent letters to 488 local governments within the states reminding them that they are no longer allowed to enforce local tree ordinances restricting property owners from trimming or removing trees on their property.

He sent the same letter to more than 72,000 tree businesses who work with local governments.

“People should be free to protect their families and homes from trees and landscaping that poses a risk to them,” Oliva said. “The House takes seriously its duty to protect the rights of Florida residents and property owners and prevent government interference with those rights.”

The Florida Legislature approved — and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last year — legislation preempting regulations on tree trimming and removal on private property. The bill applied retroactively, rendering already existing ordinances invalid.

Oliva decided to send the letters after learning of a Miami resident who was threatened with a $24,000 fine for trimming a tree on his property. The family planted the tree years earlier, but it had become a nuisance on the property, lifting the family’s driveway from its foundation.

But the family didn’t obtain the required permits.

Nevertheless, Oliva says the 2019 law protects families like that.

“As you serve your clients, you may have encountered local government standing in your way or threatening sanctions or even levying fines for simply doing what you know, in your training and experience, to be the correct thing to do. Those days are over,” Oliva wrote in his letter to contractors.

Local governments took issue with the law as another in a stream of attacks on local governing authority.

But supporters contend the law is necessary to protect property rights and prevent government overreach.

Oliva is advising any residents experiencing issues with local governments ignoring the law to contact his office.

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13 Responses to José Oliva sends firm reminder to cities to back off tree ordinances

  1. Gerald Decker says:

    Indeed, a sensible law…..hopefully the Fernandina city commission got one of the letters….enough with the invasion of property owners rights to cut/trim trees…..kill this $26,000 fine nonsence…..when will we have city commissioners who actually work on REAL city problems, not imaginary ones?????

  2. Gerald Decker says:

    This is a prime example of the problems that arise when “local rule” has no boundaries. It is well known that small governing entities can often be dominated by activist minorities who want to force their will on others…..everyone has a story of the HOA board that went overboard bullying members, similarly, this kind of “activist mob rule” can occur in small city governments. Boundaries and limits must be in place to ensure fairness to all citizens. Sometimes the citizens, themselves, cannot set these boundaries and higher authorities must step in.

  3. Robert Warner says:

    Gerald. Unfortunately you got this backwards. Boundaries and limits are set locally by local folks who know who they are and know the area we live in – and vote for those that make the rules. Some just don’t or won’t obey those rules and are accountable for their actions under those rules. Some hide behind a corporate shield. “Activist minorities”, “activist mob rule” – sorry, but no. “Activist majorities” yes – it’s called home rule.

  4. Mark Tomes says:

    It is a double-edged sword. I do not mind if the state makes more strict regulations for conservation issues in order to stop rampant development, but local governments should be able to do the same to stop large corporations from fracking, dumping chemicals in our backyards, etc. The example Oliva cites is someone who could have gotten a permit to remove a nuisance tree and did not; no wonder he got a fine.

  5. There are two broad problems here:
    1. The law states that homeowners need to have documentation from an arborist of the threat or ill health of the tree, but this notion is so buried in the letter that it implies there are no limits,” which we feel is not an accurate representation of the law.
    2. The environment in different locations and the levels of development vary widely in the state of Florida. Localities need to be able to adapt to those circumstances. This law limits that ability. We live on a barrier island. Our trees are critical for stormwater management, prevention of severe erosion, diversion of storm winds, temperature moderation, etc. Our trees are also important for our economy–ask the tourists. We need to prevent the environmental devastation that has been allowed in much of coastal Florida.

    • Pam Hart says:

      You are correct. Trees are so important on this island for the absorption of water during storms and for shearing wind. And also for the rapidly declining wildlife habitats on the island.

  6. Susan Alexander says:

    I totally agree with the Florida Legislature and the Governor……It is my property and I should be able to do what I think is important on that property…..

  7. Ann Kemp says:

    Well I guess this homeowner just thought he was above the law which required that he get a permit.. instead of following that simple rule he shot himself in the sympathy from me.

  8. Gerald Decker says:

    Well, I stand by my comments… owners have rights too.

  9. Teri D. Springer says:

    The law allows for the removal or trimming of trees THAT POSE A DANGER. It is NOT carte blanche to cut down a tree because you want to build a new shed, or it’s not where you want it (even though it’s where it was when you bought the house). It also doesn’t allow for developers to come in and clear cut. A neighbor of mine removed a perfectly healthy tree because it was inconveniently dropping nuts. It was a nut tree when they bought the house. In fact, the tree was there before the house was built. If they didn’t like the tree maybe they should have bought a different house. But they found an arborist willing to lie and say the tree was a danger to their home.

    Yes, property owners have rights but, when you move into a community to do so knowing there are community standards. If the standards say “no lime green houses”, you don’t then decide to paint your house lime green. And if the standards say “no cutting down healthy trees just because you feel like it” then you don’t cut down healthy trees because, amazingly enough, healthy trees benefit us ALL.

  10. Ben Martin says:

    Local Rule is a good thing. The Governor taking steps to protect property owners is a good thing. Two good things are opposing each other. Is it possible that the majority of voters who are electing local rulers are not themselves property owners? How did that happen? Could it have something to do with Federal Reserve Member Banks acquiring thousands upon thousands of American Homes and becoming some of the largest landlords in the nation? There are districts where some 70% of the people living there do not own the homes where they reside.

  11. Gerald Decker says:

    PEOPLE have more rights than trees… can hug them all you want, but they are still MY TREES and I can have a say in their survival or demise….

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